Hilary Plum’s Watchfires is an intimate account of public and private life during the long years of the “war on terror.” This remarkable essay begins in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and illuminates the relationships among cancer, autoimmune disease, the Iraq War, the Arab Spring, Occupy, veteran suicide, the American epidemic of gun violence, and Plum’s family history. The result is an urgent inquiry—philosophical, political, and personal—into the maladies of our age.
Hilary Plum is the author of the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (FC2, 2013). With Zach Savich she edits Rescue Press’s Open Prose Series. She lives in Philadelphia.
Hilary Plum’s memoir Watchfires is a tender, twisted, darkly vibrant meditation on the war on terror as autoimmune disease. A quiet work of genius, as hopeful in its punishing honesty as it is rueful in its dire beauty, Watchfires warns, remembers, regrets, recovers. Plum can taste our febrile paranoia and writes it inside out.
Hilary Plum’s Watchfires derives its title from the military practice of lighting a large fire after a battle, to help those lost to locate the group. How apt, given how lost we are. Composed of paragraph pyres, Watchfires illuminates the illness of our bodies and our body politic. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and of the private illnesses that the author and her family have endured, Watchfires poses poignant and essential questions about our age: where does the self begin and end? Who is the other if not my own (other-abled) body? Is terrorism a political act or a cancer? In the tradition of Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, Simone Weil, and William Stafford, Plum shores these half-fictive, all-true fragments against the ruins of our humanity, lost islands in the age of terrorism and autoimmunity.
Hilary Plum is a remarkably natural essayist and Watchfires is teeming with wisdom, depth, and ache. Flitting among a half-dozen topics with organic ease and wonder, Plum’s work is oblique but always precise, personal and utterly controlled—imagine what Virginia Woolf might have written if she’d been intimately familiar with the Boston Marathon bombing, having a partner suffering from cancer, and the forever wars. If there’s any justice in the reading world, this book will be read broadly and passed between admirers for decades to come.